Referendum Asks Burr Ridge Voters To Make State Aware Of Pension Burden
Burr Ridge, along with other municipalities, has felt an increased funding burden under the Public Safety Pension system and is asking residents to voice their opinion on an advisory referendum in November.
Joining other municipalities across the state, Burr Ridge will place an advisory referendum on the November 2010 ballot asking residents if state government needs to take steps to reform the Illinois Public Safety (police and fire) Pension system.
Pensions are funded through property tax revenue, officer contributions and other investments. Over the past 10 years, the Village of Burr Ridge has increased the amount of contributions it makes to police pensions by 329.66 percent.
As stated in the Oct. 11 Village Board meeting, the Village's funding ratio, or the money available to cover current and future pensions, is slipping. In 1999, the Village had 110 percent of police pension liabilities funded. In 2009, that number dropped to 70 percent funded.
This is due, in part to increases in the police pension tax levy and mandates in Springfield increasing pension benefits.
"Police and fire unions have a lot of pull in Springfield," said Village Administrator Steve Stricker. "They go down and lobby and get these sweeteners [to their pension plans] and we can't continue to afford it."
Both Stricker and Mayor Gary Grasso have said that the issue, however, is not whether the officers deserve their pension, but how it is funded.
"We don't want to cast a dark shadow on our police officers or want anyone thinking ill of them – they work very hard," Stricker said. "What we're asking is for more reasonable funding and reform to make it cost effective."
"We have a great police department and their services are terrific, but these pension plans are anywhere from very generous to extremely generous and they just can't be afforded anymore," Grasso said at the Oct. 11 Village Board meeting.
The proposed referendum is not binding and will not have an immediate effect on the pension system, it is merely a call for action by legislators on behalf of the tax payers to fix what is deemed by many as a faulty system.
"This is not the municipality's fault, but the [state legislator's] fault," Stricker said. "We need to draw attention to it and ensure that the General Assembly understands that residents and tax payers are concerned," he said.
According to information provided by the Village, after 30 years of service a police officer is eligible for a pension of 75 percent of his final salary. A 3 percent annual increase is given on the pension. A retired police officer can still get another job and earn money while collecting their pension.
The current referendum, which will be placed on the ballots of many Illinois communities, is in part due to a push by Pension Fairness for Illinois Communities, a coalition comprised of municipal governments, organizations and businesses. Their mission is to find a balance between funding retirement benefits for safety employees and relieving the burden on local taxpayers.
"The unions are a very strong presence in Springfield and the tax payer doesn't have much at all," said Larry Bury of the North West Municipal Conference, speaking on behalf of the coalition. "This referendum will help create a voice. [The coalition] is committed to continuing to work on this issue."
Although the Public Safety Pension system also includes fire protection, Pleasantview and Tri-State Fire Protection Districts – which both serve Burr Ridge - are separately taxed. They do not have a direct effect on the village budget like police pensions.
The Village Board plans to discuss the issue in greater depth at the next Village Board meeting on Oct. 25 at 7 p.m.